Gun politics in the Czech Republic
|Part of the Politics series|
Gun politics in the Czech Republic incorporates the political and regulatory aspects of firearms usage in the country. Policy in the Czech Republic is in many respects less restrictive than elsewhere in Europe (see Gun politics in the European Union). The most recent Gun Act was passed in 2001, replacing the previous law and tightening the legislation slightly. Firearms in the Czech Republic are available to anybody without a criminal record and aged above 18 (or 21 for certain license categories). Self-defense is an acceptable justification to obtain a firearms license. The Czech gun laws also permit a citizen to carry a concealed weapon without having to specify a reason.
- 1 History
- 2 Current law
- 3 Carrying a concealed weapon
- 4 Ammunition restrictions
- 5 Self defense with firearms
- 6 Popularity of guns
- 7 Incidents and gun crimes
- 8 General attitudes to guns and efforts to tighten the law
- 9 Other type of weapons
- 10 References and sources
The Czech Crown lands witnessed one of the earliest massive use of the firearms during the Hussite wars in the early 1420s and 1430s. The use of firearms, together with Wagon fort, was one of the key features of Hussite war strategy, which defeated five crusades launched against the Reformationists' revolt. One of the guns used by the Hussites, Czech: píšťala, later found its way through German and French to English as term pistol. Another gun used by the Hussites, Czech: houfnice, gave origin to English term howitzer.
After establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918 the country took over the preceding Austrian gun law from 1852. The law was very liberal, allowing to own and carry guns without any formalities, only with restriction regarding their number. This was restricted during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia: the Nazis forbade private gun ownership (except for hunting) and imposed very harsh punishments. The liberal situation was returned following the defeat of Germany in May 1945.
The situation changed again after the communist coup d'état of 1948. Although the law allowed for some restricted gun ownership, in reality the authorities were instructed which groups of people could be allowed to own a gun. In 1962 a secret directive was adopted, which was listing the nomenclature of persons deemed loyal enough to be allowed to own a gun. Enactment of 1983 was more liberal, but gun ownership still remained rather restricted. Access to sport guns was easier (sport shooting was encouraged and supported by the state via Svazarm) and the rules for hunting shotgun ownership were relatively permissive.
The new enactment of 1995, after the Velvet Revolution, meant return to liberal times of the First Czechoslovak Republic. Accession to EU required new enactment, which was passed in 2002. The law remained very liberal despite introducing more regulation.
Categories of guns
Under the current gun law, guns, ammunition and some accessories are divided into four categories:
A - Restricted firearms and accessories
- Includes full automatic firearms, military firearms and ammunition not inspected and marked for civilian use, some types of ammunition such as armor piercing and incendiary ammunition, night vision scopes, suppressors and gun mounted laser pointers. The use of hollow point ammunition in pistols is also restricted, however, hollow points are legal to purchase for rifles and pistol carbines.
B - Guns requiring permit
- Includes semi automatic and single or multiple shot handguns, revolvers, semi automatic rifles and shotguns with magazine capacity over 3 rounds or with a detachable magazine, semi automatic military style rifles, rim-fire firearms under 280 mm of length and all shotguns under 600 mm of length.
- Assault rifles, such as vz. 58 (- precisly: vz.858 - semi-automatic version of rifle, vz.58 belongs to cat.A), are not singled out from other semi automatics and fall into this category. As of 2013, there is no vocal debate on their ban. They are available to any license holder and they are generally not a subject of controversy.
C - Guns requiring registration
- Includes single shot or bolt action rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic rifles not included in B, air rifles with muzzle energy over 16 J and black powder repeaters.
D - Guns available to adults above 18
- Includes air guns (muzzle energy up to 16 J), mechanical guns, replicas (black powder), airsoft guns, vintage firearms (manufactured prior to 1890), expansion guns and .22 CB cap (muzzle energy up to 7.5 J).
A person must obtain the Gun License (Zbrojní průkaz) to be allowed to own gun of categories A, B and C. To own a gun in the D category only the age of 18 is required. A, B and C category weapon has to be registered with the police after it is bought.
Categories of licences
There are six categories of gun license; however, these should not be mistaken with the categories for guns.
- A - Firearm collection
- B - Sport shooting
- C - Hunting
- D - Exercise of a profession
- E - Self-defense
- F - Pyrotechnical survey
Obtaining a license
Person applies for the gun license at the police. If the conditions of age, qualification, health clearance, criminal integrity and personal reliability are met and a fee of 500 CZK per category is paid, the license is issued in 30 days. The license must be renewed every five years.
To obtain a license B, or C, the applicant must be at least 18 years old. Under special circumstances, the applicant need to be only 15 if a member of a sporting club or 16 if taught hunting in schools with such curriculum. To obtain license A, D or E, the applicant must be 21.
Obtaining the license requires passing written and oral exam, mainly concentrated on the legislation about guns and first aid, as well as passing the shooting test. The written exam consists of 30 questions (out of 488). With score of 67 out of 79 needed for category A, 71 of 79 for category B or C, and 74 of 79 for category D or E.
The oral exam is supposed to test the person's general knowledge about guns. So called "safe handling" of the firearms has to be demonstrated to the inspector. This usually comprises safely unloading the firearm and performing a field strip. Touching the trigger, pointing in different then appointed safe direction or trying to field strip loaded gun (Dummy round is used) results in exam's fail. Applicants are usually asked to show their ability of safe manipulation on multiple firearms (pistol, bolt-action rifle and double-barreled shotgun).
The shooting test requires specific scores dependent on the category of license applied for.
- For the B and C category license it is 25m on rifle target (A4 sheet sized) with 4 out of 5 rounds hitting the target sheet shooting from a rifle. .22 Long Rifle chambered rifle is used.
- For the C category license, the applicant must also successfully hit the rifle target from the distance of 25m shooting from a shotgun, 3 out of 4 rounds must hit the target (at least partially).
- For the E category license, the applicant must successfully hit the international pistol target 50/20 (50 cm x 50 cm) from a distance of 10m (15m for D category license) shooting from a pistol, 4 out 5 rounds must hit the sheet.
In each of the cases above, the actual score is irrelevant, only the projectiles have to hit the target sheet.
In each of the cases the applicant is allowed 3 test shots to familiarize with the particular firearm used for the test. The shotgun is an exception to this, where only one round is allowed as a test shot.
The person can obtain more or all of the categories at once. But the set of categories needs to be known before the exam and highest score needs to be met. Typically, people obtain E and B category because these two categories provides the best versatility (almost any firearm can be owned and carried concealed). The D category is required by the law for the members of the metropolitan police (the state police does not need license) and does not itself permit private gun ownership.
- Health clearance
It is also necessary to present the approval from the applicant's general practitioner that they are physically and mentally fit to own and carry gun. It is fully up to the person's doctor whether he insists on them to go through psychological testing. In reality, the psychological test is rarely requested.
- Integrity (criminal)
The enactment specifies, how long time must run by after a person is released from prison for serving time for particular groups of crimes. There is a central registry for these purposes in the Czech Republic.
- Personal reliability
A person, who excessively drinks alcohol or uses illegal drugs, as well who was repeatedly found guilty of one of specified misdemeanors in the preceding three years, is considered unreliable for the purposes of issuing a gun licence. The police has the right to inquire information regarding these issues also from municipal authorities.
Obtaining a license by a foreigner
The law distinguishes foreigners according to their country of origin. For selected foreigners, the license is shall-issue as same as for Czech citizens, while for others it is a may-issue.
Foreign born residents are treated equally in the eye of Czech law (see above), but proof of a lack of criminal record in their country of origin must be provided, as well as documentation showing that they were allowed to own firearms before moving to the Czech Republic (this at least applies to the EU citizens, US citizens are not being questioned about this). All the documents must be translated into Czech language by a sworn translator. The law on firearm ownership by immigrants is ambiguous, so every police department has slightly different rules.
Foreigners may purchase firearms after obtaining corresponding licenses and permits.
The written test as well as the practical exam has to be passed in Czech language. In the past a sworn interpreter/translator was allowed, but that possibility no longer exists.
Each of the A, B, C and E categories of gun license basically allow the person to buy any category of gun. In case of A license the person is usually only permitted to keep them at home. In case of B the person is allowed to use their guns at the shooting ranges. The C category is required by other laws for hunting. The E category allows the person to own a gun for self-defense purpose and carry the concealed weapon. All guns need to be registered in 10 days after buying at the shop except for the D category.
To obtain the gun from the A category the person must ask for the Exemption from the police and demonstrate a specific reason why they want such weapon. Typically for collecting purposes or rarely working in extremely dangerous occupations such as transporting large sums of money.
The B category of guns requires permit from the police. Before buying the gun the person must visit the police and fill in the "Permit to buy, own and carry" form for the particular weapon (depending on the police department, usually caliber and type of weapon is required). The police will issue the permit in up to 30 days and the permit is shall-issue if the applicant has a valid gun license.
The C category of guns can be bought at a gun shop after presenting the gun license. However, the gun needs to be registered later at the police.
There is no limit in the law on number of owned guns. The law specifies safe storage requirements for those owning more than two weapons.
Firearm owners are allowed to practice only at licensed shooting ranges. As of 2011, there are almost two hundreds places opened for the public. Any adult can visit such a range and shoot from available weapons, without restrictions or permits. A person without Gun license has to be supervised.
Carrying a concealed weapon
Unlike most European countries where a permit to carry a concealed weapon is only issued to individuals who demonstrate a specific reason, in the Czech Republic it is a common part of the citizen's right to own guns. Every holder of the category E license is allowed to carry a concealed weapon and the permits are given on Shall-Issue basis. According to the law, the guns cannot be carried into the courts, or at demonstrations and mass meetings. It is also generally considered irresponsible to take guns to clubs or bars even though it is not explicitly prohibited by law. Carrying a gun while drunk is however illegal and can lead to heavy fines or losing the gun license.
Carrying guns in schools and campuses is not prohibited by law and there are no so called "Gun-free zones".
Gun must be carried in a concealed manner and no more than two firearms for self-defense can be carried by one person. For special purposes (such as private security or for military history fans), open carry can be allowed by the police.
Since the Czech Republic is relatively a safe country, most people agree that they do not feel the need to permanently carry a gun for protection. Considering the number of the E category licenses there are about 200 000 people who could potentially carry a firearm however it is not clear how many of them regularly do so.
All of the high penetrating (armor piercing) and hollow point ammunition is classified as category A (see above). The alternative to a hollow point ammunition was Federal EFMJ, which has been classified into the arms group A in mid 2009, effectively outlawing it. Therefore only Full metal jacket or soft nosed semi jacketed rounds and or just unjacketed bullets (lead only) are allowed. Generally, no ammunition with higher wounding potential is allowed.
There is currently no restriction on calibre size and no restriction on magazine capacity.
Self defense with firearms
There are no specific legal provisions covering self-defense by a civilian using a firearm. The general provision regarding criminal aspects of self-defense are contained in § 29 (Necessary self defense) of the Criminal Code. General provisions regarding civil liability in respect of self-defense are contained in § 418 of the Civil Code.
In general, Czech penal theory recognizes certain classes of circumstances where criminal liability will be excluded in respect of actions which would normally attract a criminal penalty. These include "utmost necessity", "necessary self defense" and other cases involving "eligible use of a gun".
Utmost necessity may be invoked where an interest protected by the Criminal Code (such as right to property or right to life) is endangered. An example of necessity would be a defense against a raging dog (unless the dog was directly sent by the owner, which would be case of necessary defense). The necessity may be invoked only in case of imminent danger and only if there is no other way of avoiding it (subsidiarity), such as locking oneself behind a fence or calling the police. Also, the consequence of the necessity must be less serious than the consequence of the endangering act (proportionality).
Necessity is excluded in cases where:
- the consequence of necessity is equal to or greater than that of endangerment
- the necessity continues after the endangerment has ceased
- the endangerment could have been deflected in other ways, i.e. with less serious consequences
- there is a duty to withstand the endangerment (a special situation which does not cover civilians)
Necessary self defense
The basis of necessary self-defense is deflection of an imminent or ongoing attack against an interest covered by the Criminal Code (such as right to property or right to life) by performing an action which would otherwise be punishable (such as use of a firearm against the other person). The imminent part means that a party is evidently and immediately threatened, it is not necessary to wait for the attacker to start the attack, especially if he is known for his aggressiveness. (That, however, is not the case if the attack is being prepared, but not imminent). The necessary self-defense may also be enacted when defending someone else's interest (i.e. defending their person or their property) as long as the same requirements are met. However, defending against a provoked attack is not considered "necessary self defense".
There is no requirement of subsidiarity: in this respect "necessary self defense" differs from "utmost necessity". The main limitation is that the defense may not be manifestly disproportionate to the manner of the attack. The manner of the attack is not the same as its intensity, which is only a part of it. For example, "intensity" covers whether the attack is committed by a single attacker or a group, with or without a gun, and the relative strength of the attacker and the party attacked, etc. But the manner also includes future imminent dangers, such as the possibility that single attacker might imminently be joined by others.
As regards proportionality, the law states that a self-defense may not be manifestly disproportionate. It is evident, that for a self-defense to be successful, it has to be performed on a level exceeding the attack. Unlike in case of necessity, the consequence of necessary self-defense may be more serious than consequence of the attack. The defense may not be restricted to a passive one, it can also be active. It is not the outcome of the incident but the sequence of actions at its beginning which determines who is to be deemed the attacker, and who is the party attacked.
There are two main excesses, which are not recognized as necessary self-defense:
- defense, which continues after the attack is over, i.e. when a robber is running away without any loot (excess in time)
- defense, which is manifestly disproportionate, such as shooting children who steal apples from a tree, or shooting a perpetrator who has passed over a fence, without giving indication of further malevolent or criminal intentions (excess in intensity)
Eligible use of a gun
Eligible use of a gun is addressed in special enactments dealing with police, secret security service, prison guards etc. Thus for example a policeman may, under specified conditions, shoot an escaping suspect, a privilege which an armed civilian does not have.
It is acceptable to defend from a violent attack anywhere on the street especially when a person is attacked with a knife or another deadly weapon. Shooting an unarmed attacker also occurs and becomes sometimes a subject of controversy. However several incidents from the past few years have showed that the Czech courts are moving towards more liberal interpretation of the self-defense and tend not to charge people who defended themselves with any crime.
The American style Castle Doctrine is also not applied however it is usually considered acceptable to defend from a violent home invasion with a firearm.
Popularity of guns
Despite the relatively liberal gun laws, guns are not especially popular in the Czech Republic; nevertheless sport shooting is the third most widespread sport after football and hockey. By June 2013, there were 306,815 licenses and 728,476 registered firearms (for the 10,5 million population). In the long term number of licence slightly decreases while number of registered guns keeps growing. 
The Czech Republic is home to many firearms manufacturers including Česká Zbrojovka. The famous models of handguns such as CZ 75 are very popular among Czechs. Czechs also favour various types of Glocks and 1911 clones. Long arms by Czech manufacturers are also very popular especially among Czech competition shooters or hunters. There are relatively fewer revolvers, mostly from US manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson and Colt, or Czech producers ALFA and Kora (revolver).
Incidents and gun crimes
In 2007 there were 836 criminal acts and 5428 misdemeanors committed with use of firearms.
It is generally not common for licensed gun owners to commit violent crimes with their guns, and most of the gun crimes are committed with illegal weapons that are beyond the control of the law. Occasionally crimes with legally owned guns do happen. The famous example is the so-called "Forest killer" Viktor Kalivoda, who was planning to go on a killing spree in Prague Metro. Ultimately, he randomly murdered two people in a forest and another man four days later in another forest about 200 km from the first killing in 2005; both with his legally owned Glock. Police captured Kalivoda week after, thus preventing further murders. Kalivoda was sentenced to life imprisonment. While in prison, he committed suicide in 2010.
The number of murders committed with legally owned guns reached its peak in 2000, when 20 people were murdered. There were 16 murders committed with legally owned guns in 2003, 17 in 2007 and 2 in 2010. The majority of them are committed during family quarrels, with only a minimum being premeditated.
On Oct 9th 2008 there was an incident at a party of a Czech politician and former prime minister Jiří Paroubek, where his acquaintance Bohumír Ďuričko shot Václav Kočka junior, the son of a Prague businessman, with his legally carried gun after a short quarrel. Ďuričko later claimed he was acting in self-defense after Kočka attacked his pregnant girlfriend. According to the eyewitness testimony it seems highly unlikely. In April 2009, Bohumír Ďuričko was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison.
General attitudes to guns and efforts to tighten the law
The gun law in the Czech Republic is quite liberal. It is mostly caused by the fact that after the fall of communist regime people wanted to regain their rights to keep and bear arms and these needs resulted in passing quite a liberal legislation in 1996, which surpassed the previous restrictive communist enactment. The law became widely accepted and led to quite massive civilian arming. Especially many businessmen felt the actual need to obtain a firearm because the times shortly after the Velvet Revolution are known for the rise in organized crime often related to the economic transformation in the early 1990s.
Today fewer people feel the need to carry a firearm for protection. General attitude to gun ownership is that there is no point in banning guns because criminals will get guns no matter how tight the law is. Also the fact that Czech Republic has a strong tradition in firearms manufacturing and competition shooting contributes to generally moderate attitude to gun control.
A sharp increase in gun ownership took place in 2011 after a number of attacks of Romani perpetrators against victims from majority population, some of which were racially motivated. This arming was taking place especially in regions such as Šluknov Hook, where high crime rates are often attributed to people from Roma minority, and where majority population distrust police and authorities. This local trend however didn't influence long term statistics.
Efforts to tighten the law usually arise after deadly incidents like those described above. Obligatory psychological testing for gun owners is the most common subject of the discussion however has always been rejected. Gun advocates point out that it is not clear what the tests would be like and who would be responsible for the testing and its results. It is also pointed out that it is unlikely that any psychological testing would reveal a potentially dangerous individual because some famous killers in the past were members of the military or the law enforcement and passed very difficult psychological testing successfully.
The law was last tightened in 2008 introducing for example stricter sanctions for carrying gun while intoxicated. Proposals to introduce mandatory psychological testing were not passed. The efforts to tighten gun legislation are also unlikely to pass as about a fifth of members of the Czech Parliament are holders of firearm license; some of them are believed to carry firearms also within the parliament grounds (parliamentarians are not required to pass gun check on entry unlike other staff or visitors).
Other type of weapons
There is currently no regulation on other type of weapons such as knives, pepper sprays, batons or electrical paralyzers. These weapons can be freely bought and carried (concealed or open) by anybody above 18. The age is required by the Civil Code. Similarly as in the case of firearms, it is prohibited to carry these weapons during demonstrations and mass meetings.
References and sources
- Karel Titz (1922). Ohlasy husitského válečnictví v Evropě. Československý vědecký ústav vojenský.
- OEtymD: Howitzer
- The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 4th edition reprinted, 1956: Howitzer
- Paul, Hermann. 1960. Deutsches Wörterbuch. Haubitze
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- Map of shooting ranges (in Czech)
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- Novotný, Oto (2004). Trestní právo hmotné. Praha: ASPI.
- An interview with a Czech prosecutor describing today’s attitudes to self defense
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- (Czech) "Informace o početních stavech ručních zbraní u držitelů zbrojních průkazů a zbrojních licencí na území České republiky a přestupcích a trestných činech v této oblasti". Ministerstvo vnitra. Retrieved January 29, 2011.
- The gun Act 119/2001 - Firearms and ammunition Law
- (Czech) "Policisté dopadli lesního střelce, prý by vraždil znovu". Ministerstvo vnitra. Retrieved January 29, 2011.
- (Czech) Třeček, Čeněk. "Lesní vrah Kalivoda spáchal za mřížemi sebevraždu". idnes.cz. Retrieved January 29, 2011.
- Paroubek's book party incident
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- (Czech) "Má váš poslanec zbrojní průkaz a zbraň? Podívejte se". lidovky.cz. June 10, 2012. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
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